Positive Power: Wholesome Capital and Independence in Transportation Systems [From BA 42-200]

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"I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer..."

from BA 42-200

“Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.” ~ Étienne de La Boétie, 1553

To be apart is not to be against.

Cycling as a transportation method, the bicycle as a mechanism for movement, is not anti-car, -bus, or -train. It is not anti-technology or anti-growth.

The bicycle has never been anti- anything. And cycling, as an action, as a mode of whatever, is separate, apart, or detached from much more because it's productive and reproductive, accumulative, but not exploitative; it's simple, minimal, and collective—and reliant solely on the human body and vice-versa.

The fact that a bicycle can provide an immense amount of positive power—positive because of the naturally healthful characteristics of the capital it produces; i.e., the mentally and physically nourishing affects and effects on the individual riding the bicycle; the formidable environmental upshots; the inspiration projected upon and envy acquired by those seeing the cyclist’s fitness; self-sufficiency; freedom of movement; dissociation from traffic; as well as the sense of community established between all people harnessing that power within or outside of the temporal space in which two particular wheels are revolving—to a person on the move, with or without a destination, is impressive and thought provoking.

That it can do so without calling for a total reconstruction of ideological foundations is even more intriguing. If this is the extent of cycling’s effects as a mode of transportation, and the total truth in what it asks from the current and not-yet converted cyclist aside from extra time, thought, and effort, the idea of substituting a bicycle for a commodity-powered machine in one’s daily travels is not as revolutionary or drastic as most suppose.

Because it is a truly small amount of change that cycling in fact calls for—a replacement only of the means to reach a desired destination or end, and a basic reformation of the way power is analyzed and defined—it should not provoke the amount of reluctance or skepticism which surrounds such a transportation conversion today. If anything, this system of movement is purely cohesive with some of the most basic human wants and needs: independence, health, happiness, and economic feasibility.

This is a definite, though not the sole, description of what the system of cycling provides for human beings and the world at large. It is a cogent explanation of a simple piece of progress towards complex solutions to many twenty-first century problems, even when pursued by only a portion of the whole. Above all, it is a representation of a unique system unequalled in its independence, and more so in the organic goodness of its parts, their processes, capital, and byproducts. That this system runs forcefully and efficiently on human, sustainable power, and has unlimited positive potential, allows it to be forever self-sufficient and free from other more consumptive systems relied heavily upon today; the most prominent example of which would be the automobile.

Cycling, or the bicycle as “anti,” naturally pits it against, puts it in competition with the automobile. When looking particularly at transportation and movement, the most common way to pursue this contest in the twenty-first century would be to compare the two systems’ capacities for movement. This leads to the use and contrast of interrelated terms such as speed, power, and convenience—the acceptable or correct applications to, and definitions within transportation-systems being another discussion in itself—all parts of the transportation lexicon highly favoring the automobile.

But cycling’s separateness creates an innate disinterest in opposing other transportation-systems. The bicycle and the cyclist do not need the physical capacity to overpower (in the current sense of the term) the automobile. For it is the independent and indestructible nature of the system they together create, which produces unequalled power (in the coming and positive sense of the term) with every pedal revolution.

Illustration by Stephen Rollick

Evan P. Schneider